New ESL Nursing Assistant Program Opens Doors for Non-native English Speakers

April 30, 2015 -- Sora McMahon worked as a nursing assistant for 13 years at a hospital in her home country South Korea. But when she came to the United States, she couldn’t find a job in her field—both because she didn’t speak English well and because she didn’t have the proper certification.
July 16, 2015

Now, because of a new program at CNM, she’s on track for both.

She originally came to CNM to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and learned the college was starting a nursing assistant certificate program option with additional support for ESL students. She is finishing the program and shortly will have her nursing assistant certificate and be ready to work in a job she loves.

McMahon is one of 14 students this Spring Term participating in an ESL Nursing Assistant Program, a new option that is funded by CNM’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) grant. I-BEST pairs a basic education instructor with a career-technical instructor to help students get the basic academic skills they need at the same time they are working to complete a certificate program. In the ESL Nursing Assistant Program students are taking nursing assistant curriculum while simultaneously improving their English language skills through an ESL class.

“ESL students in the Nursing Assistant program attend an extra class where they build their communications skills and medical vocabulary, get extra help with class content and prepare for tests,” said Penny Mortier, School of Adult & General Education (SAGE) ESL instructor, who works with the students to improve their English. ”The nursing assistant instructor comes to the ESL class to give added support. In the nursing assistant portion the ESL students work in teams with students from the general community.

The ESL nursing assistant program started in spring 2014 as a pilot with five people. Last fall there were 12 slots. Of those 12, 11 passed the class with high grades. This spring another 14 ESL students participated in the program.

Carol Ross, the instructor from the School of Health, Wellness & Public Safety who teaches the nursing assistant portion of the program, noted that “Like Sora, some of the students were trained in their home country and needed an accelerated program so they could begin working in their field in the United States.”

During the last two weeks of the seven-credit, one-term program, students are required to do a clinical rotation at a nursing home, hospital or other type of medical environment. Before they can obtain their nursing assistant certificate the students must complete the program and pass a state test for licensure. If they pass, they are certified licensed nursing assistants and are ready to work.

Nursing assistants can take vital signs; report patient status and symptoms; help patients in and out of bed; assist patients with walking, feeding and dressing; bathe residents and provide skin, mouth and hair care; empty bedpans; change soiled linens and make beds; and apply compresses and give massages.

“Once they take this program, some of the students go straight to a nursing assistant job,” Ross said. “Others want to continue their education in the nursing field, even to the point of becoming a nurse themselves. Our nursing assistant program opens doors for the students and helps them lead better lives.”  

Shanna Davis, Nursing Assistant Patient Care Technician Program Director, noted, “This program is an example of supporting CNM's vision statement, Changing Lives, Building Community, and we are so pleased to be a part of it. We are very grateful for the collaboration with SAGE and are encouraged by success of our ESL students so far.  We hope to expand the program to allow more students in the future.”